Meet the out-of-favour Barça stopper attracting English interest
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: January 15, 1994
- Place of birth: Sant Jaume, Spain
- Height: 6ft 0in
- Position: Centre-back
- Club: Barcelona (79 apps, 4 goals)
- International: Spain (5 caps, 0 goals)
Trying to dislodge a European Championship and World Cup-winning centre-back partnership is no mean feat, but that's exactly the task that faced Marc Bartra when he made his Barcelona debut. Having been dubbed the 'new Gerard Pique', it was a huge job to surpass the man himself, who was just four years his senior.
Pep Guardiola gave him his first-team opportunity in February 2010 when he came on as a substitute aged 19 in defeat to Atletico Madrid. The timing was unfortunate: it was the Catalan club's only league loss of the season. He had to wait another 15 months for his first La Liga start, although he made up for lost time by scoring in his second against Malaga.
It wasn't until the 2012/13 campaign that he was promoted permanently from Barcelona B, but the late Tito Vilanova often opted to use Javier Mascherano at centre-back when Carles Puyol was injured. More positively, Bartra featured heavily for the Spain U21 side that won the European Championship in 2013.
Under Gerardo Martino, Bartra enjoyed his most influential period and made 30 appearances in all competitions. This led to the start of the defender's international career and earned him a new three-year contract at the Camp Nou.
However, his progress stalled last term, with Luis Enrique and his recruitment team opting to sign Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen upon Puyol's retirement. Vermaelen was out injured for almost the entire season, but still Bartra made fewer starts than the previous season – only 11 in La Liga.
Why you need to know him
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Barça's decision not to play Bartra more could prove costly, as they may have made another clerical error, having lost Thiago Alcantara on the cheap to Bayern Munich two years ago.
Like Thiago, Bartra signed his new deal with a substantial buyout stipulation that would be lowered if he failed to play a sufficient number of minutes for the first team. "His release clause has fallen to €12 million because he didn't make a certain number of appearances, but that’s only until July 1, when it goes back up to €30m," his agent Javier Diaz confessed.
It's debatable whether Bartra is good enough to regularly hold down a starting berth for the treble winners, although there's no doubting his talent. He certainly isn't the first centre-back to need a move away from the Blaugrana to fully establish himself, as Andreu Fontas, Alberto Botia and Marc Muniesa will all testify.
Liverpool and Tottenham are said to be considering an approach for the 24-year-old, according to reports. Having been trained at La Masia, Bartra is used to playing in a high defensive line which makes him perfect for either Brendan Rodgers or Mauricio Pochettino's system.
Bartra is your typical prototype Barcelona defender who is good on the ball and capable of clean recovery tackles. He has quality in the air, and his speed (usually) enables him to survive when his team's style leaves him exposed on occasion.
Friendly and popular among his contemporaries, the shy youngster would ease into most dressing rooms. Perhaps that's even held him back, as he's not the kind of personality to pester his manager for a chance.
Bartra is a little lightweight and could struggle against more physically imposing strikers in the Premier League. If he can add some strength and muscle to his fragile frame, then he might cope better in those physical battles inside the penalty area. He was, after all, the man humiliated in the 2013 Copa del Rey Final by one Gareth Bale.
For a defender of his age, he hasn't played a great deal at the top level. He has fewer than half a century of appearances for Barça, when Pique made more than that (51) in the season he turned 24 alone.
"What most stands out about Marc is his character, his motivation, his wish to impress," said current Argentina coach Gerardo Martino. "He is a young kid, and maybe sometimes that impetuosity goes against him, but he is improving and surely in the coming years we will see the best of him."
Did you know?
Bartra's squeeze is MotoGP journalist Melissa Jimenez, and the are expecting a baby girl. Meanwhile, he has a twin brother Eric who used to play with him at La Masia and now helps run soccer schools.
What happens next?
- Shooting 3
- Heading 8
- Passing 8
- Tackling 8
- Pace 8
- Dribbling 6
- Creativity 5
- Work-rate 7
It's not just Premier League clubs monitoring Bartra's situation, with both Valencia and Inter Milan reportedly keen. Teams have until the end of the month to make their move for a bargain price, and it seems the player himself could be open to a switch away with his agent's declarations in mind.
Although Barcelona have used him sparingly to date, they would be loathed to lose him for such a nominal fee. It would still take something big to pull Bartra away from his boyhood club, but it might be best for his progression to seek new pastures.